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Ergonomic Tips for shoveling snow

NOTE WELL: You should NOT shovel snow without approval from your doctor. Snow shoveling can be a deadly activity - especially for seniors. The following advice is for those who have been cleared by their physician to engage in this activity. We advise you to employ a neighborhood kid to do the shoveling for you.

We just had our first real snowfall of the season. My wife convinced me to go out and move the snow off the driveway (after she checked my life insurance policy). I just came in from the adventure and I'm compelled to suggest ergonomic ideas that you (or your spouse) can benefit from.

Snow removal isn't something we do everyday, so we forget smart things to do like: reduce lifting, lighten the load, and don't twist. Poor technique is both inefficient and hazardous. Some people have snow throwers but have areas that need to be cleared with a shovel. Sometimes there isn't enough snow to use the snow thrower so a shovel is more practical.

Removing snow from the cars is the first thing I do. This allows me to stretch and move my muscles to warm them up.

Do yourself a favor and spray the shovel blade with a silicone lubricant. I couldn't quickly find the lubricant so I used non-stick cooking spray. The snow slides right off!

Use the least amount of grip pressure to safely perform the task and keep your hands as far apart as comfortable. That maximizes your leverage and makes the load of snow easier to bear.

Reduce lifting

The next thing I did is divide the "shovelable" area to have snow removed in half. I split my driveway in half lengthwise. Push the snow directly down the middle, then clear one half at a time, pushing show to the sides of the driveway. Where possible, push the snow to its destination, don't lift. Use the shovel as a plow and push it out of the way. That way, there's less bending and lifting.

Lighten the load

If you do have to lift the snow, take small scoops. Don't pick up too much at once. Use a relatively small blade shovel or partially fill the shovel to keep the shovel loads light.

Twist and shout

Decide where you want the snow to end up. Then step in the direction where you will place it. This technique prevents your lower back from twisting.

Keep your spine "straight" with your butt out. Bend with your knees and hips, rather than the spine. Keep the shovel close to your body. Don't extend your arms with a shovel full of snow that puts too much weight on your spine. Don't toss the snow over your shoulder or to the side. The jerking and twisting is bad for your back. Lift the snow and walk to where you want it placed.

So many shovels

Ergonomic shovels are designed to reduce your stooping and bending. They allow you to maintain a more upright, straight back position which is less stressful on your neck and back muscles.

When choosing a shovel the large shovel isn't necessarily the best. You run the risk of trying to lift too heavy a load. Choose the lightest shovel that can be used to accomplish your task. I believe the "D-grip" handle provides the best grip, comfort, and control.

My wife was very supportive in removing the snow. She reminded me that it's better if I move the snow early and often, instead of waiting until heavy amounts accumulate. She's right again; snow that stays on the ground for awhile usually becomes heavier. One shovelful of dry snow can weigh around 10-14 pounds while compacted snow can be 20 pounds.

There are five parts to shoveling snow. First is the pre-shoveling such as dressing properly, warming up muscles and considering when to shovel.

Second is having the right type of shovel, for instance which is better lift or push; bent or straight shaft, straight or "D" handle and large or small blade.

Next part is snow assessment and movement of the snow.

Then you need to think about moving snow without getting hurt, what must you protect?

Lastly, the techniques or biomechanics of shoveling that can help prevent pain to your body.

Of course, the easiest method of snow removal is point>click, enter your credit card number and wait for the snow plow service truck to show up.

Dave Pfeil "ErgoMan"

Dave can be contacted at Dave@ErgoCorrect.com - Copyright 2010 by Ergonomically Correct LLC

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